A Tectonic Shift in Power

Let?s take a brief trip to the not-so-distant past, a timewhen companies had the upper hand regarding interactions with customers. Theycould pretty much control the dialogue, and it was primarily one way:Businesses mailed and emailed information to customers. If there was a problem,customers could phone the call center, but that was often a time-consuming andfrustrating proposition.

If customers weren?t satisfied with the company?s responseto the complaint, they could vent to their family and friends and, if theproblem was troublesome enough, lodge a protest with a consumer advocacy groupor government agency. Again, this was often a time-consuming and frustratingproposition.

Vendors spouted the mantra: ?The customer is king!? But thevendors?and the public?knew that wasn?t really the case. The vendor was theking.

Fast-forward to 2012, when an ever-growing number ofcustomers are shouting, ?Down with the king!? And, thanks to mobiletechnologies and social media, their shouts are being heard around the world.

If individuals are unhappy with a product or company, theycan make their displeasure known to their circle of friends on Facebook, andthey can tell their friends, who can tell their friends ? You get the picture.Depending on how many followers they have on Twitter, disgruntled customers mayeven be able to tweet their unhappiness to a global audience.

It?s clear that today?s customers truly are kings and queensin terms of choice, power and control over the companies with which they dobusiness. That has been a shock to the management of many vendors, who areill-prepared to deal with this customer revolution.

The tide is not turning back, however, so companies thatwant to thrive?or even survive?in this new landscape need to rethink theirbusiness strategies and develop tactics that put their customers first.

That brings me to two companies that are doing anoutstanding job of bonding with their customers through the use of mobiletechnologies. In ?Mobility Transforms the Customer Relationship?,writer Sam Greengard details the steps USAA and AccuWeather.com have taken tomake their customers? lives easier.

Last year, USAA, which has close to 100 dedicated developerswriting and updating mobile apps, handled about 183 million customer contactsthrough its mobile channel. ?Our goal is to redefine processes and providesimpler and more powerful ways for customers to interact with us,? USAA VP NeffHudson told Sam.

The financial services company lets customers deposit checksby using a smartphone to snap an image and send it to the bank via a mobileapp. USAA customers can also take a photo of an auto accident with a smartphoneand submit a claim right from the accident site.

?The goal is to build a robust cross-channel experience thatlets customers interact in a way that makes sense for them,? Hudson added.

And USAA is not alone. AccuWeather.com, which providesweather forecasts and reports to consumers and businesses, provides itsinformation though the Web and a range of smartphones and tablets. It alsooffers different versions of apps for various devices to match the needs ofusers.

?We use a couple of research firms that provide real-timefeedback about customer behavior within these apps,? Christopher Patti,director of technology, told Sam.

Andrew Borg, senior research analyst for wireless andmobility at the Aberdeen Group, summed up the mobility-enabled company-customerrelationship for Baseline: ?It isn?t about differentiating yourself for thesake of standing out. ? It?s all about making things simpler and better for thecustomer. When mobility is done right, the company and the customer come outahead.?

Borg makes a lot of sense, but many companies won?t find iteasy to deal with this tectonic shift of power to the customer. Decades oftaking customers somewhat for granted will be hard to erase. It will requiremanagers and executives to recreate their strategies and their mindset?not tomention their technology infrastructure.

Revolutions are always tough, complicated and painful, butthis is one in which everyone can come out a winner.